BACHELORHOOD: Tales of the Metropolis by Phillip Lopate

BACHELORHOOD: Tales of the Metropolis

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Despite the title--and despite a defensive, pretentious introduction which outlines the book's ""four themes, roughly paralleling four aspects of the bachelor sensibility""--this talented, very uneven collection of pieces doesn't add up as a thematic mosaic. In fact, the best items here have no special connection to ""bachelorhood,"" and they are damaged rather than enhanced by the distracting, artificial format. The standouts: ""Willy""--a raw and painful Brooklyn-boyhood reminiscence about near-breakup in the marriage between Phillip's bookish, remote father and his frustrated, passionate mother. (""Come on Bertram, why don't you get off your bony ass and put down the goddamn book, As I Lay Dying or whatever it is, and help with the cleaning. Make like a human being! Who do you think you are--Sitting Bull?"") And ""Remembering Lionel Trilling"": an affectingly plain recollection of the Columbia professor--who only very gradually impressed undergrad Lopate but later on was ""heartbreakingly kind"" to Lopate-the-fledgling-writer. In other, mildly involving but less shapely pieces, Lopate recalls his quasi-courtship of a Korean woman (helping her translate her father's poems)--or an uncomfortable yet tender evening with an East Village poet and his long-suffering wife. There's minor, ironic diversion in anecdotes about ""Getting a Cat,"" eavesdropping on a train-ride conversation, or dealing with someone else's child at a brunch. And Lopate is least impressive in a handful of mawkish, banal poems; in very short evocations of supposedly poignant moments; in arch, journalistic broodings on ""the bourgeoisification of Columbus Avenue"" or pornography; and in a strained essay on ""Bachelorhood and Its Literature""--which derives some very dubious generalizations about ""the bachelor writer"" from a consideration of (primarily) Charles Lamb, Cesare Pavese, Walter Benjamin, and Lu Hsun. Throughout, the intelligence and even-temperedness which were on display in the flawed novel Confessions of Summer (1979) reappear here, but so does the tendency toward earnest self-absorption--sometimes in fitfully comic guise--and verbose stodginess. Overall, then: an erratic and ill-conceived gathering, with a few attempts at grabbing a trendy urban audience, but at its impressive best when sticking to the plainest, simplest materials.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown